Chicago punk rockers Downtown Struts play their music with a strong sense of melody and rock ‘n roll swagger. What they don’t play it with is diversity. The Downtown Struts sound like a combination of One Man Army, Dead to Me, and Rancid; inhabiting the lighter end of the punk rock spectrum with trebly guitars and big choruses with bite provided by driving tempos and rough garage rock vocals. . They’re definitely competent musicians, and honestly some of their good songs are in the running for best of the year. But after listening to the band’s former release Sail the Seas Dry, Victoria! feels more like a dull retread than a classic. But if you’re not a bitter, jaded bastard like myself, and remain oblivious to this band’s previous efforts, you might just fall in love with this record.
Victoria! begins with the aptly titled song “Prologue.” Despite its cryptic name, “Prologue” is more or less a tool, not a song. Its purpose extends little beyond introducing the couplet “have you ever been face down in the gutter, have you ever been face down in the ground?” Later in the album, the song “Lost in America” calls back to the lyric, utilizing it better within the context. When Downtown Struts aren’t using cheap tricks to create the illusion of depth, they do write some pretty great songs. The best song lyrically on the album is probably “Rogues.” Like a lot of punk rock, it’s a glorification of being an outsider, but instead of settling for cliches it builds its theme around an actual concept. It also has less repetition than most of the songs on the album.
Much like Sail the Seas Dry, Victoria! is eternally concerned with movement. But while it was quaint and exhilarating on Sail the Seas Dry it seems like the Downtown Struts are having trouble writing anything outside the comfort zone of train-hopping travelogues. It’s a shame that a band with such a strong style is being held back by repetitive lyrical content, despite it being well written.
With all this said, Victoria! is not so much a bad album as a disappointing one. If it were my first encounter with the band, I’d probably like it a lot more. As a standalone, it’s pretty good punk rock. But compared to the EP that preceded it, Victoria! is just longer with different songs. But unfortunately, not different meanings. Despite the lack of variation and growth, the Downtown Struts first full length does have enough melody and songwriting to merit a listen for the uninitiated, but the rest of us might just feel a crushing sense of deja vu.